An entitled young man, slowly over 850 pages makes the same mistakes over and over again seeking wealth and prestige, finally culminating in a murder. The last 300 pages are devoted to the trial and Clyde trying to persuade himself that he's really not actually guilty.
Constantly seeking the life of luxury, Clyde has been forced to cajole and enmesh himself into social sets that he hopes will provide him with the "American Dream" - living the life of luxury, with class and style and minimal work.
Clyde is an interesting protagonist. At first the reader has something akin to sympathy for this young boy forced to stand on the corner with his street preaching parents, suffering the shame and humiliation that comes with glorified pan handling. When he is able to get a job at a soda counter, it seems like his vapid life is filled with potential. But as he constantly seeks a life beyond his grasp he slowly becomes an avaricious young man trying to purchase joy and fulfillment. At on point his sister is in trouble and his family comes begging to him for help. He stands in front of his mother, his pockets filled with money he plans to spend on an outrageously expensive fur coat for his paramour and with disdain and disgust he tells his mother he's sorry but he can't help her.
After later seducing a young women, he uses her as long as it is convenient and then when a new social set seems willing to embrace him, he drops this young woman, now carrying his child, as if she were no more than a dirty rag. When she refuses to be left to face the shame of bringing a bastard into the world alone, he develops a complicated plot to drown her and make it seem like an accident. Clyde is anything but an intelligent planner and within hours of his crime everything has been found out and he sits in prison contemplating the futility of his life.